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Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Nuclear power suffers biggest ever one-year fall
Nuclear power generation suffered its biggest ever one-year fall in 2012. International Atomic Energy Agency data shows that nuclear power plants around the world produced a total of 2,346 TWh in 2012 − 7% less than in 2011, and the lowest figure since 1999. Compared to the last full year before the Fukushima accident, 2010, the nuclear industry produced 11% less electricity in 2012.

The main reasons were that almost all reactors in Japan were off-line for the full calendar year, and the permanent shut-down of eight reactors in Germany. Other issues included problems for Crystal River, Fort Calhoun and the two San Onofre units in the USA which meant they produced no power, and Belgium's Doel 3 and Tihange 2 reactors which were out of action for half of the year.

Three new reactors started up during 2012 − two in South Korea and one in China. In Canada, two older reactors came back into operation after refurbishment. This new capacity totalled 4,501 MWe, outweighing the retirements of the UK's Oldbury 1 and Wylfa 2, and Canada's Gentilly 2, which between them generated 1,342 MWe. Across the rest of the global fleet, uprates added about 990 MWe in new capacity. So total increased capacity was 4,501 + 990 − 1,342 = 4,149 MWe, a little over 1%.

The uranium spot price fell to US$39.75 / lb U3O8 on June 11, falling below $40.00 for the first time since March 2006.

At the end of 2012, world total capacity of solar photovoltaic generation reached 100 GWe, with 30.5 GWe installed in 2012 alone. There is about 2.55 GWe of concentrating solar power capacity worldwide, three quarters of this in Spain. Wind power soared in 2012 with a new record for installations − 44 GW of new capacity worldwide. Total capacity exceeds 280 GW, with plants operating in more than 80 countries. China leads the world with 75 GW of wind power capacity.

World Nuclear News, 20 June 2013, 'Nuclear power down in 2012',
Ana Komnenic, 12 June 2013, 'Uranium hits seven-year low',
REN21 Renewables Global Status Report, 2013,
J. Matthew Roney, 2 April 2013, 'Wind Power',


Fines and fire in the UK
The nuclear company Sellafield Ltd has been fined 700,000 pounds and ordered to pay more than 72,635 pounds costs for sending bags of radioactive waste to a landfill site. The bags, which contained contaminated waste such as plastic, tissues and clothing, should have been sent to a specialist facility that treats and stores low-level radioactive waste, but "significant management and operational failings" led to them being sent to Lillyhall landfill site in Workington, Cumbria. This breached the conditions of the company's environmental permit and the Carriage of Dangerous Goods and Use of Transportable Pressure Equipment Regulations. The mistake was only discovered by chance following a training exercise on the faulty monitoring equipment on April 20, and in the coming days the bags were recovered from the Lillyhall landfill site and dispatched to the Drigg radioactive waste dump. [1,2]

An investigation has been launched into an incident at Sellafield's THORP reprocessing plant which occurred on May 14. The incident involved mistaking two chemicals, formaldehyde and hydroxylamine. Cumbrians Against a Radioactive Environment spokesman Martin Forwood said that had the error not been spotted, "the consequences of introducing formaldehyde into the first stages of fuel dissolution could have been catastrophic for THORP's internal workings − and had the potential to initiate a site accident." The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) secretariat said it was "alarming" that Sellafield Ltd had classified the incident as a "non-radiological event." NFLA group chairman Mark Hackett said the incident "could have led to a major accident at the Sellafield Thorp plant." [3]

Nuclear waste clean-up operations at Sellafield could be taken back into state hands after a series of failings by private companies managing the site, as their 22 billion pound contract comes up for review. A consortium called Nuclear Management Partners was selected in 2008 to run the Cumbrian site for up to 17 years. But the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee have both criticised delays and cost over-runs. The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) is now reviewing whether to renew the contract with the consortium ahead of a “break” point in March 2014. The NDA said it was considering three options, including stripping the consortium of the contract and taking Sellafield back into the NDA’s hands, a move that would require ministerial approval. It is understood to be drawing up plans for how the site would be run if it opted to do so. Decommissioning operations at Sellafield are expected to cost more than 67 billion pounds over the next century. [4]

Meanwhile, the company which operates the factories where the UK's nuclear weapons are manufactured has been fined for breaches of safety laws following a fire in which a member of staff was injured. AWE plc, which operates the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE), pleaded guilty to failing to ensure the health, safety and welfare at work of its employees. On May 28 the company was fined 200,000 pounds and ordered to pay £80,258 in legal costs and 2,500 pounds in compensation to an employee who was injured during the fire. The charge followed a fire which broke out in an explosives handling facility at the AWE Aldermaston site in Berkshire on the evening of 3 August 2010. The incident left a member of AWE staff with burns to his face and arm and required the evacuation of a number of local residents and closure of roads around the site as safety precautions. [5]

[1] CORE, 14 June 2013, 'Sellafield Ltd fined £700,000 for sending LLW to local landfill − largest ever fine for site',
[2] The Guardian, 15 June 2013, 'Sellafield fined £700,000 for sending radioactive waste to landfill',
[3] Peter Lazenby, 2 June 2013, 'Sellafield bosses play down near catastrophe',
[4] Emily Gosden, 20 June 2013, 'Sellafield clean-up could be taken into state hands as £22bn contract up for review', The Telegraph,
[5] Nuclear Information Service, 28 May 2013, 'Nuclear weapons factory operators fined £200,000 for safety breaches',


Kaliningrad nuclear plant work suspended
Russia has suspended work on its new Baltic nuclear power plant in Kaliningrad. It is designed for the EU grid and is now about 20% built. Despite endeavours to bring in European equity and secure sales of power to the EU through new transmission links, the 1,200 MWe plant is isolated, with no immediate prospect of it fulfilling its intended purpose. Kaliningrad has a limited transmission link to Lithuania, and none to Poland, its other neighbour. Both those countries plan to build new western nuclear plants, and in any case have declined to buy output from the new Baltic plant. With Estonia and Latvia, Lithuania is integrating its electricity system with the EU, and is about to start on a 1000 MWe link southwest to Poland. It does not wish to upgrade its Kaliningrad grid connection to allow Baltic NPP power to be sent through its territory and Belarus to Russia.

World Nuclear News on June 1 wrote: "It is a stand-out project for Russia: the first to be opened up to investment by European utilities; the first intended to export most of its output; and the first to use an Alstom-Atomenergomash steam turbine. Construction of the first VVER-1200 reactor began in February last year, with another one planned to follow. ... Despite being 18 months into construction of its first unit, the Baltic plant is also progressing without the hoped-for foreign investors."

NGOs − including FoE France, ATTAC France, Réseau "Sortir de nucléaire", Russian Ecodefense, German Urgewald and Banktrack − are warning that the Kaliningrad project may be revived, possibly with a new design and French funding (see the Banktrack website).

World Nuclear Association, New Russian nuclear plant stranded,
Grid concerns for Baltic project 11 June 2013,

Transuranics, mercury and banned fluids discovered in Swedish nuclear waste repository

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Charly Hultén − WISE Sweden

The Spent Fuel Repository (SFR) at Forsmark is the only final repository for nuclear waste in operation in Sweden today. Intended to receive short-lived nuclear isotopes, SFR has long been criticised for both its location and its design. Opened in 1988, it is a child of 1950s and 1960s thinking. Only 60 metres beneath the sea on Sweden's Baltic coast, the repository was created to leak its contents into the Baltic, which Swedish nuclear regulatory authorities still regard as an "appropriate recipient".

One of the facilities that has deposited waste at SFR is a waste treatment facility at Studsvik, another coastal site. Studsvik, too, has been harshly criticised for the effluents it flushes into the sea. It is reputed to be the number one source of caesium pollution to Baltic waters. Studsvik AB has also been a concern on dry land − time and again authorities have urged the company to improve the documentation of its waste management.

In February of this year, some 7,000 metal drums of waste stored at Studsvik were examined to determine their contents. The drums in question contain waste from the early years of Sweden's nuclear industry, when the aim was to develop a nuclear deterrent. It is, in other words, waste from weapons research. They are stored on site, pending the creation of SFL − a special repository for long-lived intermediate-level waste.

There is no proper record of the contents, and the drums are not easily examined. Deep inside several consecutive drums is a concrete block, which isolates whatever needed to be put away. An examination carried out in February, which combined gamma radiation readings and X-ray inspection of the drums, turned up a number of unpleasant surprises: fluids (roughly five cubic metres distributed over some 2000 of the drums, some of which is presumed to be nitric acid), mercury (an estimated 65 kg), lead, and transuranics, including an estimated 300 g plutonium, perhaps twice that amount according to nuclear chemist Christian Ekberg from Chalmers Technical University. Fluids, no matter what kind, are banned because they convey radioactivity so efficiently.

These finds prompted suspicions about the 2,844 drums from Studsvik that, presumed to contain only short-lived isotopes, are already stored in SFR. In early May it was determined that all the Studsvik waste, including the drums in the SFR repository, will have to be X-rayed, sorted and/or treated and then repackaged. Some materials will need to be isolated in blocks of concrete. These various operations will require a new facility.

Retrieval of the waste from SFR, the new facility, and X-ray processing will each be costly. In Sweden the processing and management of nuclear waste is financed via a surcharge on electricity. There is also a specific surcharge of 0.002 euros/kWh to cover the costs of waste from Studsvik. In other words, users of electricity will be footing the bill for decades of nonchalance on the part of the nuclear industry.

Swedish Radiation Safety Authority
The discovery raises a number of issues relating to Swedish nuclear protection philosophy. Both the shallow SFR repository and the very profitable reprocessing plant at Studsvik have their basis in how the regulatory authority, the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority (SSM), goes about assessing the environmental consequences of nuclear facilities. The starting point in SSM's approach is the number of human beings that may come in harm's way as the result of the activity in question.

Sweden is a big country with a small population (roughly 9 million). Large expanses of the country are very sparsely populated. Furthermore, it is difficult to demonstrate how pollution of the Baltic Sea affects human health. Thus, SSM may be more generous in its estimation of the amount of radiation that poses a risk. A case in point: one of the most widely criticised design features of the SFR repository is that it is planned to be filled with sea water once the last drum of waste is in place. There is no doubt that the repository will leak – "from Day One" in the words of Anders Siebert at SSM at a recent hearing. Thus "dilute and disperse" – normally a fallback strategy when the first rule, "concentrate and contain", has failed – is standard practice in Sweden.

In an international context, this approach to human health consequences is also the key to the competitive advantage a company like Studsvik enjoys − it can process scrap imported from countries like Germany, where stricter regulations might render the processes more costly or rule them out entirely.

We should also bear in mind the evolution that has taken place in the field of radiation protection. Professor Jonas Anshelm of Linköping University has analysed ideas about nuclear waste in Sweden in recent decades. Ideas about what is to be considered 'waste', the amount of waste involved, and how long it needs to be isolated, Anshelm says, have changed over the years. "In the 1960s it was encased in concrete and dumped into the sea. In the 1970s, the industry's experts assured us that the waste would fit into a chamber the size of a sports hall. In the 1960s, storage for 100 years was considered sufficient, but today the consensus among experts is that it needs to remain isolated for over a hundred-thousand years," Anshelm points out. Presumptions have changed radically, and they will most surely continue to change, he concludes.

Anshelm is seconded by Sven Odéus, spokesman for Svafo AB, the company in charge of the Studsvik waste. An investigative journalist for Swedish radio asked Odéus how the debacle could arise:

"I think it was just a case of poor management. I don't think it was a deliberate act."

"You mean, they were just careless?"

"Well, I wouldn't say 'careless'. It was the thinking of the day." (Sveriges Radio, Klotet, 6 May 2013.)

The reporter notes that the most recent drums in the Studsvik collection were packed in 1997.

Questions remain: Has the predominant thinking within the industry's waste management company, SKB, evolved? And, if not, is there a will on the part of the regulator to make it evolve?


Power failure at Forsmark
May 30 − one of the Forsmark reactors in Sweden was taken off line for a scheduled check-up and repairs. Shortly thereafter electrical power supply to the reactor went dead, and no emergency back-up power from the mains kicked in. Fortunately, the control room staff was able to start up the diesel generators manually.

The operator assured the public that when offline, a reactor can go without cooling several days before the situation posses a threat. Still, the incident demanded an explanation, and it turns out that the emergency back-up power supply kicks in automatically only when the reactor is online. Whether the system will be automated even during offline periods has yet to be decided.

The strange thing is that the power supply systems were overseen as recently as 2006. Then, power failure deactivated several safety functions while the reactor in question was online. Several experts spoke of a "20 minutes to meltdown" incident. That may be the reason why the regulatory agency SSM has classed this recent failure as a "Class 1" incident. Permission to restart the reactor will be granted only after a thorough report from the operator. The power supply to other reactors at the station are now under review, as well.

Upsala Nya Tidning, 31 May 2013; WISE Sweden

Please note - we made an editing error in Charly's article. The Swedish 'SFR repository' is not the planned repository for spent nuclear fuel. It is, as the second line of the article makes clear, a repository planned for short-lived isotopes, in operation since 1988. Apologies to Charly for our editing error.

WISE Sweden